Medical Malpractice and Personal Injury Law Blog

Patients Go Blind After Error During Cataract Surgery

Posted by Briggs Bedigian | Aug 19, 2016 | 0 Comments

When talking about medical errors, there are few things more cringeworthy than medical blunders involving the human eyeball. Unfortunately for a number of patients in Massachusetts, they faced this nightmare head on, when an anesthesiologist improperly pierced their eyeballs with a needle during surgery, resulting in permanent blindness.

The thought of a needle piercing a person's eyeball is the stuff of nightmares. However, for patients seeking cataract surgery, they may have been unaware that the anesthesiologist did not know what he was doing when he put a needle into their eye. Now, the doctor has been blamed for causing blindness in 5 people in a single day.

Patients visiting the Cataract & Laser Center West in West Springfield, Massachusetts went in for eye surgery to improve their vision. Instead, a number of patients who visited the center in May of 2014 ended up going blind. An anesthesiologist was sent to the facility in place of the center's assigned anesthesiologist. However, the contracted anesthesiologist hadn't performed an eye block for almost a year.

An eye block involves injecting the muscles around the eyeball with a numbing agent. This immobilizes the eye itself, to allow for the surgeon to operate on the eyeball. While the surgery center said that the normal anesthesiologist observed the first few injections, the anesthesiologist disputed that claim, saying he was around the corner, prepping and discharging patients. As a result, the surgery center said that they had increased the number of required observations to 12.

One of those patients, Kathleen White, 65, recalled the pain when the doctor injected a numbing agent into her eye. Moments later, she underwent a short cataract surgery. However, the following day, when a technician asked her to read an eye chart, White could not see anything. It was then that she learned that she was irreversibly blinded by the anesthesiologist.

Tzay Chiu, M.D., may have pierced the eyeballs or retinas of 5 patients in a single day, causing them to lose vision. “We found out about the damage the day after surgery during the routine follow-up visit,” said the wife of one of the blinded patients. “Had the eye surgeon paid attention to this right after it was done, some damage might have been reversed. The tragic part of this for all five is it could have been prevented.”

Cataract removal is one of the most often performed surgeries in the country. That day, the eye doctor had 45 patients scheduled. Unfortunately for 5 of those patients, the relatively simple surgery turned tragic, as they had an operation on an eye that they would never be able to see out of again.

After the blinding procedures, Dr. Chiu voluntarily signed a practice restriction agreement with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Dr. Chiu agreed to no longer perform peribulbar or retrobulbar eye blocks during ophthalmic surgery. Although blindness is a rare complication for most cataract surgeries, many doctors still avoid eye blocks because of the risks involved. Most cataract surgeries rely on anesthetic eye drops instead of using a needle to anesthetize the eye.

If you or a loved one has been injured due to a medical error, the Gilman & Bedigian team is fully equipped to handle the complex process of filing a medical malpractice claim. Our staff, including a physician and attorneys with decades of litigation experience, will focus on getting you compensation, so you can focus on healing and moving forward. Please do not hesitate to contact us today for a free consultation.

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm's litigation practice.  Briggs' legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 

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